When you're going to those umpteen prenatal appointments, your teeth might be the last thing on your mind. That baby bump and the amazing changes going on inside it tend to draw most of the attention. But mom's dental health during pregnancy is no small matter. As seemingly random symptoms might have reminded you (hello, nosebleeds), the systems in your body are interconnected. That means health issues in your mouth have the potential to affect your pregnancy.
Even though the dentist might be the last person on your list to go see during pregnancy, your dental health provider probably wants to change that. Treating the oral health of a pregnant person requires "coordinated effort between OB-GYNs and dentists to reach mothers-to-be," Dr. Stefanie Russell, a dentist at New York University told the New York Times.
I never thought about how my dental health related to my growing baby until I caught a severe toothache during my third trimester and needed a root canal. Clearly, I just wanted the pain to go away ASAP. When I made an emergency dentist appointment, I soon learned that dentists treat pregnant patients very cautiously, sometimes requiring approval from the OB-GYN before offering treatment, as mine did. An infected tooth posed a risk to me and my baby.
But the dentists I spoke to want to see moms-to-be before a problem starts. Here's what they think every pregnant woman should know about dental health.
1. Don't Avoid The Dentist During Your Pregnancy
It's not uncommon to be afraid to go see the dentist. People can experience dental anxiety for reasons ranging from fear of pain to worries about how much it will cost, reported Psychology Today. That fear doesn't just disappear when you become pregnant. Or even if you're not afraid to visit your dentist, you may be wondering if it's okay to do so during pregnancy.
Donald L. Chi, DDS, PhD, Professor of Oral Health Sciences at the University of Washington School of Dentistry, assures Romper that pregnant patients should not avoid the dentist's chair.
One of many misconceptions people have is that "pregnant women should skip going to the dentist because dental care is unsafe. Dental care during pregnancy is safe," says Dr. Chi.
Romper also spoke with Jennifer A. Hasslen, BA, DDS, Assistant Professor at the Creighton University School of Dentistry, about another surprising factor that could keep moms-to-be away from the dentist.
"Some dentists, depending on how they were trained or who trained them [...] don’t feel like it’s safe to work on any pregnant woman,” she says.
Don't let that stop you from getting your routine teeth cleaning or checking out any oral health issues.
"It is important to find a dentist who is comfortable treating pregnant women," Dr. Chi says.
Try to think of your dentist as a collaborative member of your pregnancy team, Dr. Hasslen explains, so that you and your coming child can be healthy. They can spot potential issues before they start, help you identify where you can brush better, and give you tips if you have a pregnancy-related dental health problem like pregnancy gingivitis.
2. Morning Sickness Can Affect Your Dental Health
If we're keeping it a buck, nausea during pregnancy can be hard enough on your stomach alone, especially if you have hyperemesis gravidarum. But even through my three pregnancies, no one really warned me the vomiting resulting from morning sickness weakens your teeth.
Dr. Chi explains, "[The] biological changes that accompany pregnancy, like vomiting, that expose the teeth to stomach acid and hormonal changes [...] can lead to bleeding gums. All of these factors increase a [pregnant] woman’s risk for dental diseases."
Upchuck happens, we know. If you rinse your mouth with a solution of a teaspoon of baking soda mixed with a cup of water, according to the Mayo Clinic, you can neutralize the acids that damage your teeth after vomiting.
Pregnant women often use chewing gum to alleviate nausea and settle their churning stomachs, per Mom Junction, but there's also another reason to pop a stick of gum in your mouth. You can help keep your teeth free of bits of food.
“A sugar-free chewing gum does a couple of great things for your mouth. One, most of the time, when you’re chewing gum, you’re chewing away any food particles that are left. You’re getting them out of the places where they get stuck," says Dr. Hasslen.
"It [also] increases saliva flow for that 10 to 20 minutes after you’ve eaten something. That helps neutralize acids that [...] contribute to the beginning of cavities," she adds.
3. Watch Out For Those Sugar Cravings
I know, I know. Pregnancy can often feel like one long eternity of experts telling you what you can and cannot eat. Only, most often, pregnant women hear it from their OB-GYNs, doulas, or nurse midwives. However, your dentist also has something to say about your diet.
Dr. Chi suggests moms-to-be lay off of sweet foods and "especially sugared beverages" to avoid tooth decay. Pregnant women should "brush regularly with fluoride toothpaste, and to drink fluoridated water," he adds.
By the way, fluoride is completely safe for both mom and baby, says Dr. Hasslen.
4. Poor Dental Health During Pregnancy Can Affect Your Baby's Teeth
We may not necessarily think of our baby's teeth as newborns because, well, they don't have any. But a mother's oral health matters during pregnancy and delivery for another slightly icky reason.
"The bacteria that cause tooth decay and gum disease are transmitted to newborns during birth and infancy," Dr. Chi explains.
And the way we taste baby's food for heat or softness, once they're eating solids? Or when we chew baby's food a little before we give it to them? Dr. Hasslen tells me oftentimes, when young children get cavities, the bacteria that caused the decay match bacteria found in their parents' mouths. That's more than a little gross.
So good dental health practices during pregnancy have the potential to help your baby long after they leave the womb. Schedule a dentist appointment at least during your second trimester when you might be feeling less nauseated. It's almost as important as that prenatal visit. As Dr. Chi puts it, "When moms-to-be take good care of their oral health, her newborn child will benefit."